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November 2004   

Interview: The Reich Stuff
Robert Reich has led the debate on the future of work � both as an academic and politician. Now he�s on his way to Australia to help NSW unions push the envelope.

Economics: Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

Environment: Beyond The Wedge
Whether the great forestry divide can ever be overcome or whether it is best sidestepped for the sake of unity and sustainability in other areas is up for debate, writes Tara de Boehmler.

International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews show us How To Kill A Country

Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Nick Lewocki from the RTBU lifts the lid on the shonky science behind RailCorp testing

Politics: Labo(u)r Day
John Robertson lets fly at this years Labor Day dinner

Human Rights: Arabian Lights
Tim Brunero reports on how a Sydney sparky took on the Taliban and lived to tell the tale.

History: Labour's Titan
Percy Brookfield was a big man who was at the heart of the trade union struggles that made Broken Hill a quintessential union town writes Neale Towart.

Review: Foxy Fiasco
To find out who is outfoxing who, read Tara de Boehmler's biased review of a subjective documentary about corrupt journalism.

Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
Brothers and sisters! Praise the Lord! Brother George has saved the White House from an invasion by infidels, writes resident bard David Peetz.


The Locker Room
In Naming Rights Only
Phil Doyle has Gone to Gowings

The Soapbox
Homeland Insecurity
Rowan Cahill tells us how the Howard Government�s appointment of Major-General Duncan Lewis to head up the national security division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has received little critical comment, until now.

The Westie Wing
New proposed legislation in NSW provides a vital window of opportunity for unions to ensure they achieve convictions for workplace deaths, writes Ian West.


What�s In a Name?
McDonalds is doing it, IAG has done it, James Hardie desperately needs to do it � and now the Labor Council of NSW is doing it, re-working its brand to meet the changing demands of their markets.


 Unions Dump Labor

 Shearers Brush Woolly Mammoths

 Girls Should Be Short Changed

 Sydney Turns Down Volume

 Minister Rides Collie

 Staff, Trees Weather the Blame

 Offshore Embassy for Families

 Visy Paper Folds

 Workers Unplug Power Cuts

 Silverwater Offers Porridge

 Environment Wiped Out In Dubbo

 Justice Eludes Kariong Staff

 Nelson Flags Another Raid

 Five Steps to Sanity

 Activists What's On!

 Too Young
 Let's Start A New Party
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Crime and Punishment

Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

In the early days of his third term as Premier of NSW, Bob Carr challenged his government to move away from current law and order politics and come up with a more progressive approach to punishment. Central to this would be a reconsideration of the place of the prison in criminal justice.

Prisons, by their nature and the communities they house, suffer more acutely from the social exclusion that characterises the underprivileged parts of Australian society. Without the exacerbation of a custodial experience, these characteristics alone militate against the successful reintegration of prisoners back into the community.

A revised punishment policy therefore requires more than retarding spiraling imprisonment rates. For those who do end up in gaol, and for those employed to manage them, the prison environment requires significant redevelopment, if inmates are not to leave prison more maladjusted than when they went in.

Violent, inhuman, unsafe, confrontational and exploitative prison settings will distort social and moral messages that are consistent with crime prevention.

Prison staff have either worked to ameliorate the negative influences of social exclusion amongst inmates, or in a regrettable minority of instances have contributed to the brutality of prison experience.

In NSW, prison education officers have had a significant influence in improving prisoner literacy rates over the years.

In so doing, they have addressed one of the simplest and yet most significant factors at work against prisoner reintegration. Prisoner education is recognised as one of the few correctional initiatives which seem to correlate with improved recidivism prospects.

Unfortunately, however, many cost-effective prison programs, like remedial reading, have recently suffered from a deprivation of resources and policy commitment, while expensive and selective cognitive behavioral initiatives have been favored by Australian prison administrations.

Psychological determinism has taken hold in contemporary prison rehabilitation thinking.

A reason for this may be that it holds out a causal connection between prison programs and the reduction of recidivism. More cynically, it also allows prison administrators to rationalise program resources and restrict program entry on the basis of inmate risk.

This psychological - or criminogenic needs model - of offender programming in prison argues for psychological intervention, which addresses criminogenic thinking, needs and risk on the basis of cognitive behaviour research.

Advocates of the model argue that a greater adherence to psychological justifications for rehabilitation will exclude other modes of explanation, such as social exclusion. They hold that, even the belief that rehabilitation in prison has failed can be overcome by psychological models such as this, which explain criminal behaviour and go on to address offender risks such as eventual re-offending.

Like the treatments and therapies of the 1960s that left rehabilitation in prison in taters, this new wave of behaviourist prisoner programming may be equally problematic.

The empirical research tends to suggest that the justification, that criminogenic needs approaches will reduce the re-offending of the most risky and the most dangerous, cannot be substantiated.

The ability to diagnose the cause of the inmates underlying criminal behaviour through psychological determinism is not sufficient to overturn more universal rights to program access for prisoners. And if this diagnostic capacity was routinely available, and it is not, then such predictive wisdom would be more economically applied to crime prevention than correctional remedies.

There are more successful and less discriminating approaches to corrections in prison. Victoria, for instance, is investing substantially in a best practice strategy to reduce re-offending.

Recidivism rates alone, as a performance measure of the effectiveness of offender programs, are too narrow an evaluation of rehabilitation practice in prison.

More realistic is an integrated approach, focusing on the climate of program delivery, program cost effectiveness, program integrity and treatment outcomes. Life quality issues are needed as a vital measure of the relevance of correctional programs in prison.

The Home Office as the administrator of English prisons is now required to meet modest targets in the improvement of prison life and the reduction of re-offending following release.

This has necessitated the development of a new context for corrections; one directed to the improvement in the quality of prison life and an investment in 'what works' with offenders.

A recent study to evaluate the quality of life in five English prisons from the perspective of staff and offenders found staff and prisoners agree on 'what matters' in assessing prison quality.

The study suggested there is a broad consensus about values - which include respect, fairness, decency and order; that prison life quality resembles the expectation for civil society; and that safety is a critical concern.

"To me", said one prisoner respondent, reflecting on his aspirations for prison treatment, "being treated with humanity means being provided adequate, reasonably comfortable and clean accommodation and being acknowledged as a person with individual needs, desires, concerns, strengths and weaknesses."

Prison staff would find it hard to argue against this. It is, however, the bigotry of public opinion about prisoners 'getting it too easy' which tends to endorse further social exclusion in prison. Paradoxically, this is what increases the likelihood of re-offending and the associated threat to community safety.

Mark Findlay is Professor of Criminal Justice at Sydney University. This article has been drawn from his chapter in the Evatt Foundation's new book, The State of the States 2004, to be launched at Sydney's Vibe Hotel (111 Goulburn Street) at 6pm on Tuesday 26 October (6pm for 6.30pm, all welcome, free).


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